Bosnia’s high representative told to explain ‘undemocratic’ changes to electoral rules to European Parliament committee

Bosnia’s high representative told to explain ‘undemocratic’ changes to electoral rules to European Parliament committee
On election day in October, Schmidt announced he was using his Bonn powers to impose changes to the country's electoral law. / OHR
By bne IntelliNews October 17, 2022

High Representative Christian Schmidt will have to explain his decision to impose changes to Bosnia & Herzegovina’s electoral law and the constitution of one of its entities to a European Parliament committee upon the request of MEP Tineke Strik.

On October 2, when Bosnia held a general election, Schmidt announced he is using his Bonn powers to impose the changes as Bosnian politicians have for years failed to reach a compromise. However, his action was accepted with mixed reactions by the international community.

“Just confirmed: upon our request, High Representative Christian Schmidt will appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament to clarify the reasons for his undemocratic measure,” Strik wrote on Twitter on October 14.

Stirk, along with Bundestag member Boris Mijatovic, has sent an open letter to Schmidt demanding the withdrawal of his decision, which they called undemocratic and detrimental to the rights of Bosnia citizens to free elections. 26 other members of the European, German, Dutch and French parliaments joined the letter, demanding Schmidt explain his decision.

In the letter, the politicians urged Schmidt also to provide an explanation for claims by Bosnian politicians that they participated in the negotiations with the Office of the High Representative on the adoption of the amendments. Schmidt refused to answer questions to local media on these meetings, saying that he has the right to meet with anyone and to discuss all topics, and that these meetings have no impact on his decisions, N1 reported.

Bosnia comprises two autonomous entities – the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska, and consists of three constituent peoples – the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), the Croats and the Serbs.

For years, the two peoples living in the Federation have been trying to resolve the problem with the election of the Croat member of the presidency, who is currently elected with the votes not only of Croats but also of Bosniaks, which are a majority in the Federation.

In 2016, Bosnian Croat politicians filed a complaint with the constitutional court, arguing that the electoral mechanism to establish the House of Peoples in the Federation violates the constitution. The court partially accepted this appeal and gave Bosnia's state-level parliament six months to fix problematic parts of the election law. The changes have not so far been adopted, but according to some analysts the court’s decision has removed the legal basis for establishing the upper chamber.

In an attempt to push forward the process, earlier this year Schmidt wanted to use his Bonn powers to impose changes to the electoral law. Schmidt intended to impose amendments that would require the election of Croat or Bosniak MPs from each canton only if at least 3% of its population is from either of these peoples. However, his plan was strongly opposed by the Bosniaks and Schmidt backed off ahead of the elections.

On October 2, however, the high representative decided to move forward his plan and announced he was using his Bonn powers to impose electoral law changes in force as of October 3. Schmidt said in a statement that the amendments aim to improve the functionality of the Federation and ensure timely implementation of the results of the October 2022 elections.

The package includes amendments to the Election Law and the Federation Constitution, and only relates to the post-election establishment of indirectly elected bodies. Schmidt has increased the number of seats for each of the two peoples in the Federation’s parliament to 23 from 17.

The amendments to the country’s election law increase the number of representatives in the Federation entity’s House of Peoples and the way they are chosen. They also set a deadline for the formation of the government after the election, as well as measures to ensuring functionality of the Federation.